Posted by: Bro. Lawrence D. | July 17, 2008

Agonizing Over Assurance Part 3 (What about the texts?)

     In my first post on this subject I was mainly venting frustration based on my personal experience. I owe an apology both to the ministries of Way of the Master Radio and Paul Washer. I should not have mentioned them by name in the first post at all and I could have made my point without doing so. I’m sure they are both sincerly attempting to address a very real problem that exist in the church and in reality in general. That is the problem of false converts. I believe now as I believed then, that there wasn’t enough care in their messages to spare the struggling yet authentic believer. But alas, I could have made the point without mentioning them. For that I do sincerly apologize. 

     Following a critique from a trusted friend and mentor, I was prompted to write a second post. In the second post, I attempted to address the overall issues that existed irregardless to whether or not I was directly affected. I received some great feedback and I hope that it at least sparked some thought. In this third, and as I plan it final, post I want to look at the text that are used by various individuals to preach these “test of assurance” sermons (Thanks Lionel, for this phrase!). Let’s begin agonizing:

    The first text I will look at is 2 Corinthians 13:5. It reads “Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you-unless indeed you fail the test? (NASB)”.  This verse, when read alone, seems to imply that Christians ought to periodically, if not everyday, examine their lives for signs that they aren’t really saved. But is this Paul’s intention in these verses? Even if it’s not, is it a proper application to use to implore Christians to test their own authenticity? If we look at the entire context of the previous few chapters, and even 1st and 2nd Corinthians as a whole, perhaps we will come away with a different view. The Corinthian church was a church beset by many problems; factions and worldliness being the best way to generalize the issues. But the specific problem that concerns our discussion today is the presence of the false apostles who challenged Paul’s apostleship and the unexplainable acceptance of these challenges by some in the Corinthian fellowship. That acceptance caused some to feel as though they were qualified to examine Paul. So in chapter 10, Paul begans to discuss and defend his apostleship and the authenticity of his ministry. After what Paul considers to be an embarassing defense of himself and his ministry he challenges those who have begun to examine him to “Examine yourselves!” But why? What was his point? His point was that if they had come to Christ or “faith” through his ministry and he was a fake, then what did that say about their salvation? Wouldn’t it be fake as well? Now, do you honestly believe that a preacher can pound the pulpit over and over again with this verse and command you to question your salvation?

     Next let’s look at 2 Peter 1:10a “Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you; (NASB)”. Now usually this is the only portion of this text that is quoted by the pulpit pounding preacher. The remainder of the verse and the preceding verses, give a better context or background to this phrase. The remainder of the verse says, “for as long as you practice these things, you will never stumble.” What things? And what does it mean to stumble? Well maybe we should back up to verse one and make some observations. “Simon Peter, a bond-servant and apostle of Jesus Christ, TO THOSE WHO HAVE RECEIVED A FAITH OF THE SAME KIND AS OURS, by the righteousness of our God and Savior, Jesus Christ: (NASB, emphasis mine)” Simon Peter seems to indicate a confidence in the salvation of his audience. He doesn’t seem to wonder or doubt their standing in Christ. So how do we get to what he says in verse 10 and turn it into a command to question our salvation? Hold on, I’m getting there. Verses 2-4 read, “Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord; seeing that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, HAVING ESCAPED THE CORRUPTION THAT IS IN THE WORLD BY LUST.” (emphasis mine) Again, I don’t see anything in this statement that can be applied to an unbeliever or even to one whom Peter wasn’t so sure about. Even greater than that is the fact that it’s the Holy Spirit who is speaking, therefore we know that He is not unsure or uncertain about anything. So what about verse 10? Hold on my friend, we’re almost there. Verses 5-9 read “Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For he who lacks these qualities is blind or short-sighted, having forgotten HIS PURIFICATION FROM HIS FORMER SINS.” (emphasis mine) What can we note here? Peter, by the Holy Spirit, gives admonishment to a Christian as to what qualities he/she needs to pursue in addition to their faith in Christ. He also includes the consequence of not pursuing these things in our lives. One can actually become uncertain of one’s spiritual condition, that of a cleansed sinner, and become stagnant. Now verse 10 makes sense, especially when read in it’s entirety. Through the pursuit of these qualities, one need not suffer doubt or despair over one’s salvation. As the text states, “they will never stumble!”!

     The last and most popular of texts is 1 John. It is no doubt that there are clear distinctions made by John throughout the letter between the true and the false professor. But history tells us that John was contrasting the followers of an early form of gnosticism with the true Christians to whom he was writing. These gnostic teachers had actually come in and upset the inward assurance of many believers by their false claims. However, nowhere does John indicate that he is unsure of the salvation of those to whom he is writing. In fact just look at the places where he gives a reason for writing: 1:4; 2:1,8,12,13,14,21,26; and 5:13. In each place he seems to desire to encourage rather than to test these believers. Let’s look at some of the “we” statements that he makes regarding specifically things applying only to believers (he does make “we” statements that apply to unbelievers but the intention of those statements is clear): 1:7,9; 2:2,3,5. There are also warnings and instructions that he only seems to expect believers to heed. These are found in: 2:15,18,24,28; 3:7,11,13,18,23; 4:1,7,11, 21; 5:16,21. And not to mention all of the passages containing promises which only the believer can access. Now to be fair, we do in many places see the phrase “By this we know” and this may be the cause of many to believe that this means that we should test ourselves by these statements. But again, taking into account both the historical context and John’s stated purpose for writing, I believe that this was a way for his audience of true believers to identify the false teaching of those who had disturbed their fellowship. This early group of gnostic teachers taught and lived the opposite of all the “by this we know” statements. Now is it proper to use 1 John on a mixed congregation of believers and unbelievers? Or on those whom you suspect may be unregenerate? Maybe, but care must be taken and discernment must be exercised before we proceed.

     All in all, the purpose of these posts on assurance is to get each one of you to realize that the objective reality of assurance rest only in Christ’ finished work on the cross. All other forms of assurance, though not inherently bad and even worthy of pursuit, are subjective. These subjective forms ought to be submitted to the objective reality of Christ!

 

Next up, AGONIZING OVER ESCHATOLOGY DEBATES

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Responses

  1. Great article Dacus!! I honest did not see a contrast in what I wrote and what you wrote regarding the matter. I am aware of the history behind 2 cor 13 and the previous chapters. I have in the past written an article about this as well. I will see if I can find. I think the verses are applicable but maybe a better history of the context would be better before I go using that verse. Thanks again and I am enjoying your site!! God Bless in Christ

  2. Thanks for the encouragement T! You and Lionel have really shown me the benefit of looking at a text for myself and not being wedded to the traditional interpretation. This site is in part a result of not being able to accept certain teachings. And also from seeing how those teachings can be damaging if not balanced and directed with precision.

  3. Lovely exposition brother. Lovely. At the end of the day when all our chips are on the table and the Lord asks us “why should you enter my kindom”, our only answer should be raised hands, lowered eyes, and contrite hearts. The only words we should dare utter is “Jesus Christ Sir”, “Jesus Christ Alone”, “my works are insufficient”! Praise God that we can rest in His Arms and in His works because if I am left to appease God, then I have no hope!

  4. Awesome post Bro. Lawrence. I didn’t even know you had a blog until I went to Pastor John’s site. This was very helpful exposition of the scripture. I am looking forward to your future posts. God bless

    Bro Karsten

  5. God bless you Bro. Karsten! Thanks for stopping by! How’s that new baby? The blog is new. Thanks to some encouragement from Bro. Lionel Woods and Pastor John as well, I decided to step on out and see if I can add something to the discussion. I aim also to be a help to anyone who is struggling with their faith because I just don’t see a lot of help amongst the Body for those who are weak. Feel free to agonize along with me!


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